CHICAGO — Dairy cheeses, whether from cows, goats or sheep, as well as plant-based varieties were plentiful at the Winter Fancy Food Show, held Feb. 6-8 in Las Vegas. The event marked the Specialty Food Association’s first live trade show in two years. While cheese dominated the dairy space, premium butters and frozen desserts could also be found among the more than 800 companies exhibiting specialty foods. The main theme of the show was comfort foods with a twist. These products are aimed at consumers who continue to seek new yet familiar experiences at home amid the ongoing pandemic.
The $170.4 billion specialty food industry encompasses food and beverages, and their specialty nature includes attributes such as exotic origin, particular processing (and often the intentional lack thereof), design, limited supply, unusual application/use, packaging or channel of distribution/sell.
In 2020, specialty food sales accounted for 21.5% of all food and beverage sales. Cheese has long maintained the No. 1 position in terms of dollar share of sales (6.2% in 2018), but according to The State of the Specialty Food Industry US market, which was published in June 2021, meat , poultry, seafood (frozen and chilled) has ousted cheese from the top spot, growing 30% in 2020 and 36% from 2018 to 2020. The two categories each exceeded $5 billion sales in 2020, according to the Specialty Food Association.
Meat and cheese have become pandemic staples, with many consumers willing to splurge on specialty varieties in order to bring excitement to their daily meals, especially after the fatigue of cooking s is installed. Often the two are used together. Think the wagyu burger with imported Havarti cheese and prosciutto di Parma with marinated whole milk mozzarella.
Prior to the pandemic, cheese sales for Belgioioso Cheese Inc., Green Bay, Wisconsin, were split between retail and foodservice, with mozzarella and Parmesan dominating its foodservice business at universities, hospitals and restaurants in fast service. The balanced mix allowed the company to easily pivot and deliver more retail cheese to early storage kitchens.
“We had a balanced mix of business, so we were able to quickly shift our focus,” said Cathy Shifflett, director of retail sales and broker management. “We didn’t throw away any milk and, in fact, we even took back a few things. We’re now pretty much back to that even split, and all that Italian cheese we’ve made is aging well.
As domestic out-of-home restaurant dollars surged in the summer of 2021, Belgioioso developed a relationship with Subway, Milford, Connecticut. Its fresh mozzarella has become a permanent item available for all sandwiches, salads and wraps, with the brand identified on menu boards. .
At the Fancy Food show, Belgioioso introduced new retail convenience items, including 8oz sliced logs of “Scamorza-Rella,” which is a cheese like mozzarella and provolone. It is available in traditional and smoked hickory varieties.
“Our new Artigiano Mocha Cheese is available in 5 oz retail wedges and 11 lb wheels for in-store cutting,” said Umberto Marconi, vice president of marketing. “This cheese is bathed in rich cocoa and Italian espresso. We like to say that it is an awakening of sweet and savory flavors.
For FrieslandCampina, Paramus, NJ, the world’s largest producer of Dutch gouda and cheese, the pandemic has had a positive impact on retail sales, which is the company’s focus. One driver was growing consumer interest in creating charcuterie platters. While charcuterie, by definition, refers to meats such as salami, sausage and pâté, the concept has evolved to include a range of cheeses, fruits and nuts.
“We set out to create the right pack in the right size for the right price,” said Debbie Seife, Director of Marketing. “Our new Royal Hollandia ‘starter packs’ are perfectly sized for consumers creating boards who want to try new types of cheese or add variety.”
The company offers six of its most popular deli-centric cheeses in 3.5 oz to 4 oz packages, inviting curious consumers to purchase a few options without the commitment of the typical larger piece. The cheeses come in ready-to-eat packages designed to facilitate merchandising in the deli with “pick and mix” marketing language. Each individual pack includes information on the cheese’s flavor profile and suggested pairings. The company now includes these details on most of its cheeses as part of a rebranding and new product rollout program.
FrieslandCampina’s portfolio includes more than a dozen cheese brands. One of the new cheeses that debuted at the Winter Fancy Food Show was Gayo Azul Cotija. Additionally, there are new Royal Hollandia snacks, which are on-the-go items. The pouch that contains the five or six individually wrapped 20-gram portions of cheese is made from recyclable paper and can be marketed upright or hung from a peg.
Additional Innovative Applications
Snacking and entertainment, even within a bubble of friends or family, has fueled many innovations over the past year. Artful Apps, Parkville, Mo., used the show to showcase its Crackerology Cracker Kits. The company was founded in July 2021 by three friends who identified the need for fast, gourmet and high-end aperitifs that could be paired with cocktails, beer and wine.
The all-in-one kits have been created so that everything needed to prepare 24 starters or desserts is included in the box and can be assembled in minutes. The four salty varieties all include shelf stable dairy cheese from Dairyfood USA, Blue Mound, Wis. Wine & Rosemary, for example, contains salty crackers with a touch of red wine, rosemary and a hint of pepper, as well as schmear cheese, preserves and a nut topping.
Anderson International Foods, Jersey City, NJ, introduced Stuff n’ Roll, which is a fresh whole milk mozzarella sheet that can be loaded with tasty ingredients to create low carb snacks or appetizers top of the line. The company is gearing up to launch the Brigitte’s Spirit range of Brie, which comes with a layer of fruit paste (apricot, fig or guava) for easy plating.
New flavor-focused goat and sheep cheeses. Bellwether Farms, Petaluma, Calif., has introduced fresh sheep’s cheese in flavors such as Moroccan Spice and Sonoma Herb. Vermont Creamery, based in Websterville, Vermont, gave attendees a sneak peek at its new line of gourmet goat cheeses: Strawberry Spritz, which has sweet champagne notes; cherry cocoa, reminiscent of black forest cake; and the sweet truffle, which is made with black Italian truffles and a touch of honey.
For Responsible Foods, a food start-up founded in 2019 in Reykjavik, Iceland, cheese or skyr are the basis of its first offer: Næra Icelandic Snacks. The stir-fried and dried snacks are processed and made with 100% green energy, according to the company.
Green energy, as well as other sustainable practices, such as grass-fed eating, were evident throughout the exhibit. Wyke Farms introduced Ivy’s Reserve Vintage Cheddar to the US market. The product is marketed as the world’s first carbon-neutral branded cheddar. Refined for 18 months in oak, the process gives the cheese a mild, nutty and complex cheddar profile.
Glanbia Ireland’s brand division introduced its Truly Grass Fed range, which in addition to cheese offers a range of butters. The latest addition is a salted butter spread.
Other notable dairy innovations spotted at the show include Parmalat Nata Crema para Desayuno (Nata Breakfast Cream). It is a sweet clotted cream made from whole milk. Popular in Mexico and Latin America, the spread can be used on toast topped with honey, put on fruit, or mixed into dessert.
Little Jasmine, Alhambra, Calif., introduced their American-produced brown sugar milk tea boba ice cream made with imported Taiwanese boba.
Heinlein Foods USA Inc., Miami, has launched its new Karinat Frozen Greek Yogurt, which comes in berry, dulce de leche, original and passion fruit flavors. Gelato Festival, West Hollywood, California, a company that collaborates with chefs around the world to develop gelato concepts for its cafes in Europe and Los Angeles, is moving into pint retail. Its first dairy product is La Dolce Vita, a chocolate hazelnut flavor, and the company also offers vegan oat options.